Police fire on mourners: John Carlin helps ferry Soweto's wounded demonstrators to hospital as the ANC calls for multi-party control of security forces

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The Independent Online
THE AFRICAN National Congress called yesterday for multi-party control over South Africa's security forces after police opened fire without provocation on a crowd of ANC demonstrators in Soweto. Four people were killed and up to 200 wounded.

One and a half million people attended rallies in 84 towns around the country on what the ANC called a 'national day of mourning' for one of its leaders, Chris Hani, murdered last Saturday.

At least eight people were killed and several hundred injured after riots erupted in some of the main cities, notably Cape Town where a large element in an ANC crowd of 20,000 went on a violent looting spree.

Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general, said last night that it was imperative for the police to be placed under the joint control of the country's leading political parties. He was speaking after the day's most violent incident - in Soweto.

Some 30,000 men, women and children descended on the township's biggest police station, a large compound a kilometre in circumference surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. The crowd stretched for several hundred yards, crammed along a street bordering the fence, behind which stood scores of tense policemen carrying rifles and shotguns.

Small columns of ANC supporters chanted and danced. Some lobbed stones over the main gate. But mostly people were subdued, in mourning.

Suddenly, and inexplicably, a yellow police armoured vehicle, a Casspir, ploughed at high speed down the middle of the packed street, causing panic but somehow managing not to run anyone over. When a second one repeated the manoeuvre five minutes later, youths pelted it with bricks.

Local ANC leaders at the main gate, who had met the brigadier in charge moments earlier and had been assured the police would exercise maximum restraint, gave the crowd instructions to disperse, which they started to do.

Quite without warning, and at point-blank range, police behind the high fence opened fire with birdshot, rubber bullets and live ammunition. They continued firing for a minute.

Dozens of people lay bleeding on the road, including two members of a BBC television crew who were taken to hospital with birdshot injuries. One policeman who opened fire, when asked by a photographer why he had done it, said: 'Well, they were throwing stones, weren't they?'

One young man, shot in the side of the head, his chest drenched in blood, was dragged towards me by two friends. They implored me to drive him to Baragwanath hospital, about four miles away. I agreed and they loaded him, and a second wounded man who appeared out of nowhere, on to the back seat.

The reception area outside the casualty ward was like a battle zone. Nurses raced stretchers across the tarmac as car after car arrived, screeched to a halt and unloaded a fresh victim.

The clothes of all the wounded were spattered in blood. Some groaned. Some screamed. Some - like a thin, middle-aged woman face down on a stretcher, a round blood stain in the middle of her back - lay absolutely still.

Intravenous drips and bandages were applied on the spot. The doctors, when they paused for breath, just stood there shaking their heads. 'I have never seen anything so appalling in all my life,' said one.

I counted more than 50 victims in the first half hour. In all, it turned out, more than 150 wounded people were brought to this hospital alone. Four died, including Soweto's ANC general secretary - an extraordinarily sweet man called San Ntambane. Four were critically ill.

The sister of one stood in a corner and shrieked, over and over: 'Enough is enough] Enough is enough]'

Mandela jeered, page 13

Leading article, page 23

(Photograph omitted)